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Family Activism

Immigrant Struggles and the Politics of Noncitizenship

During the past ten years, legal and political changes in the United States have dramatically altered the legalization process for millions of undocumented immigrants and their families. Faced with fewer legalization options, immigrants without legal status and their supporters have organized around the concept of the family as a political subject—a political subject with its rights violated by immigration laws.

Drawing upon the idea of the “impossible activism” of undocumented immigrants, Amalia Pallares argues that those without legal status defy this “impossible” context by relying on the politicization of the family to challenge justice within contemporary immigration law. The culmination of a seven-year-long ethnography of undocumented immigrants and their families in Chicago, as well as national immigrant politics, Family Activismexamines the three ways in which the family has become politically significant: as a political subject, as a frame for immigrant rights activism, and as a symbol of racial subordination and resistance.

By analyzing grassroots campaigns, churches and interfaith coalitions, immigrant rights movements, and immigration legislation, Pallares challenges the traditional familial idea, ultimately reframing the family as a site of political struggle and as a basis for mobilization in immigrant communities.

Author Information

AMALIA PALLARES is an associate professor of political science and the director of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of From Peasant Struggles to Indian Resistance: The Ecuadorian Andes in the Late Twentieth Century and the coeditor of Marcha: Latino Chicago and the Immigrant Rights Movement.


"In this compelling and highly original work, Pallaresillustrates how Latino activists frame the family to contestimmigrants' negative representation and to make counterclaims onbehalf of unauthorized and mixed-status families."
— Pat Zavella, author of I'm Neither Here Nor There: Mexicans' Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty

" Family Activism is a timely, compelling, and significant contribution to understanding the desperation experienced by immigrant families, by women and children, and by undocumented youth raised in the United States because of the ever-present fear of deportation—a must read!"
— Leo R. Chavez, author of Covering Immigration: Popular Images and the Politics of the Nation

Audience: Professional and scholarly;